Will over-the-counter medications affect doses of the coronavirus vaccines?

By — Angela in New York,

“I have read conflicting views on whether taking acetaminophen or ibuprofen after a vaccine dose diminishes the immunity you get with the vaccine. I wondered if there is anything definitive about whether you can take them or how long after getting the vaccine you can take them?”

— Angela in New York

We’re not surprised you’re confused about this, because there’s a lot of different advice floating around.

With the disclaimer that you need to talk to your doctor before taking any kind of medication, the short answer is that it’s okay to take over-the-counter pain relievers after being vaccinated. The advice has been mixed on whether it’s fine to take them before your shot.

Some people, on advice from their doctors in anticipation of a painful procedure, take ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin) or acetaminophen (Tylenol, Excedrin) before their appointment. The idea is that you can reduce the pain of the procedure and get a jump-start on the post-procedure pain if you take OTC medications in advance.

But there’s concern that taking medication ahead might interfere with the vaccine itself. The purpose of the vaccine is to trigger your immune system to respond. Your system needs to learn what the virus looks like and produce antibodies to attack it. Some experts have said that taking these OTC painkillers could reduce your immune system’s response — but mainly, they don’t have clear data so they recommend against taking them preemptively.

For example: “We do not recommend premedication with ibuprofen or Tylenol before COVID-19 vaccines due to the lack of data on how it impacts the vaccine-induced antibody responses,” Simone Wildes, an infectious-disease specialist at South Shore Medical Center in Massachusetts, told ABC.

But a survey of studies that looked at this effect in children showed that it was not significant. The authors asked a simple question — does taking OTC painkillers before vaccination reduce the efficacy in children? Their answer was no.

The best guide we have found for what to expect after you get the vaccine is a CDC brochure. In it, the agency says, “If you have pain or discomfort, talk to your doctor about taking an over-the-counter medicine, such as ibuprofen or acetaminophen.”

If you’re particularly concerned about pre-dosing (maybe you have chronic pain that requires a daily dose of one of these medications), you should contact your doctor for advice.

— Angela Fritz

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